Healthy living can benefit anyone, but you may wonder how to accomplish it as a college student. Temptations come in the form of late-night snack runs, 2 a.m. parties and Friday night drinks. All these things provide entertainment for a short period, but you may feel worn out and unhealthier than ever the next morning. Fortunately, creating a healthy lifestyle is straightforward — no intricate tricks or games. If you need help beginning your journey to college wellness, check out the 11 tips below.
1. Drink Water
Many college students turn to energy drinks, coffee and soda as their primary hydration, but water is the only liquid that provides lasting benefits. Water hydrates your skin and keeps it elastic, which means less dryness and cracking. It helps your kidneys operate by removing waste, and it cushions your brain and spinal cord. Tap water contains nutrients and minerals the body needs to function, like calcium and magnesium.
Invest in a reusable water bottle — it’s convenient and eco-friendly. If you’re not big on plain water, liven it up with fresh fruit, mint leaves or ginger. Buy a bottle with a built-in filter if you don’t trust the water fountains on campus.
2. Eat Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but how many people eat it regularly? Skipping breakfast leaves you little energy to start with, and it encourages overeating throughout the day. Your blood sugar is naturally low upon waking, which leaves you groggy. Getting food into your system solves this tiredness by boosting your glucose level and providing energy to your cells. And when you eat a filling breakfast, you stave off hunger, which prevents you from consuming large meals or snacking too frequently.
Avoid nodding off in class by having a hearty breakfast or bringing a snack. A granola bar, yogurt cup or piece of fruit works wonders, especially when you can’t have a sit-down meal.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
Though you may need to pull an occasional all-nighter or two, avoid making it a part of your routine. Sleep deprivation creates chronic fatigue and hinders your thinking abilities. And when you’re an academic, you need all the reasoning power you can get. Sixty percent of all college students lack adequate sleep hygiene, with 7.7% of them suffering from insomnia disorders.
Insomnia can breed mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which leads to a domino effect of unpleasant symptoms. Mental illness causes you to feel irritable and pessimistic about life, and you can suffer from nightmares and suicidal ideation. Poor sleep hygiene leads to a host of issues you may not expect, which is why it’s essential to maintain a healthy routine.
Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on the weekend. Wind down an hour before you go to sleep — turn off your electronics and dim the lights. Blue light from your phone or laptop mimics the sun’s rays, which signals your brain to stay awake. Create a relaxing bedtime routine so your body will condition itself for sleep at the same time each night. Avoid heavy, carb-filled midnight snacks.
4. Choose Healthy Food
Fill your fridge with vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy. If you don’t want the hassle of cleaning and cutting up veggies, go for pre-cut and pre-washed ones. This increases the convenience of grabbing a quick snack before heading to class. Look for options like baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes.
Store fruits in your fridge to make them last longer. Oranges, apples and bananas do well on your desk or shelf. Dried fruit is great for easy snacking, but many brands are high in added sugars, so check the label before buying. Buy individual fruit cups or cans of fruit cocktail.
Add more beans, nuts and whole grains to your diet. Legumes and nuts contain high levels of protein and fiber, which energizes you and keeps you regular. Go for almonds and pecans, which contain 13 and 10 grams of fiber respectively. You may encounter whole-grain cereals that are deceptively unhealthy, so check the nutritional facts. Select 100% whole-grain cereals that contain less than eight grams of sugar in each serving.
Get your muscles working at your campus gym. Exercise improves your sleep, sharpens your mind and boosts your mood. It increases your good cholesterol and reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease as well as stroke and heart attack. The benefits don’t stop there, either — you also lessen your chances of diabetes, arthritis and some types of cancer. Exercise is an all-around health advantage, so make time in your schedule for regular workouts.
If you don’t have time to hit the gym, opt for walking around campus instead of driving. Any exercise is beneficial, no matter how simple or short it is.
6. Maintain Your Dental Hygiene
Sometimes it’s too easy to hit the hay without brushing or flossing, but take a few minutes to do it. Everyone knows a lack of dental hygiene leads to cavities and bad breath, but fewer realize the broader implications. Malnutrition and heart disease are some of the many problems people experience. Gingivitis-causing bacteria may travel throughout the body and inflame blood vessels, causing blood clots. Inflammation causes significant damage to the heart and brain over time.
Most people know to brush, but less focus on scrubbing their tongue or flossing their teeth, which also contributes to poor dental health. Brush and floss regularly, but do so with care — aggressive brushing can strip your enamel and erode your gums.
7. Manage Your Mental Health
Your brain is the most vital organ in your body — keep it healthy by maintaining your mental wellness. Intense stress can accelerate brain degeneration and even kill off neurons. Surviving neurons become accustomed to high cortisol, which changes your brain functioning and leaves you in a constant fight-or-flight state. This prolonged state of anxiety can lead to digestive and immune issues.
Many students suffer from depression, anxiety and other disorders, but only about 20% take advantage of campus counseling. Much of this is due to a lack of useful resources at their respective counseling centers.
Take occasional mental health days and do activities that inspire joy. Talk with others when you feel down, or join a support group on campus. Avoid isolating yourself from others, which exacerbates loneliness. Making connections provides a sense of community and encourages you to seek help if your mental health declines.
8. Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal of your thoughts and emotions helps you understand what causes them. Regular journaling can bring clarity if you often struggle with labeling your emotions. It also sharpens your memory, relaxes you and strengthens your immune system — similar benefits to what having a conversation offers. The best part of journaling is the privacy of it. If you have issues to express but don’t want to tell anyone, write them down.
You don’t have to fill your journal with negative experiences, either. Write about self-affirmations, joyful experiences, future wishes and things you like about yourself.
9. Create a Schedule
Yes, you already have one in the form of your class schedule — but make another. A lack of structure can make accomplishing simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. You may want to achieve specific goals but find yourself procrastinating or forgetting about them. Maybe you struggle to balance academics with leisure and could benefit from drawing clear boundaries. Organizing keeps you from stressing out and gives you control over your life.
Implementing structure doesn’t have to bore you. Buy separate planners for your academic and personal life and fill them with drawings, stickers and photos. Color-code everything, and check tasks off as you complete them.
10. Take Breaks
Take breaks whenever you can — overworking yourself only causes grief in the long run. An exhausted mind can’t perform at its peak, and it doesn’t help you finish assignments. You may feel burnt out yet you try to work through it — afford yourself a small break if you can’t swing a long one. A five-minute break is better than none at all, and it gives you time to breathe and rest your firing neurons.
Ensure you don’t slide in the other direction and start procrastinating, however. Set a timer for your breaks if you need guidance.
11. Wash Everything
Some students neglect a shower or two due to their jam-packed schedules, but they do themselves a disservice with this. Washing isn’t just for smelling good — it eliminates bacteria and keeps your skin healthy. A warm shower can help you sleep better, while a cold spray stimulates endorphin production, leaving you relaxed and cheerful.
Wash your sheets and pillowcases once a week. Germs, dead skin and dust mites build up on your linens and mattress the longer you leave them on the bed. Although these things don’t pose an immediate risk, you’ll definitely stay healthier if you aren’t sleeping in a mishmash of yucky debris. Do laundry often.
Make Healthy College Living Simple
Staying healthy in college requires motivation, but it’s achievable. Your loved ones value your health even when they’re not present to remind you, so why shouldn’t you do the same? Stay on top of your health, and you’ll avoid the pitfalls of sick days and exhausting nights.